Oct
12

Taming Windows 10 Privacy Settings

Taming Windows 10 Privacy Settings

October 12
By

Microsoft released Windows 10 to the public at the end of July, and it’s been widely accepted as a worthy upgrade from Windows 7 and especially Windows 8. It appears that Microsoft listened to customers who felt Windows 8 moved too far away from desktop users by removing the START menu and forcing a tiled interface on users who had become accustomed to the desktop metaphor.

Microsoft has consistently referred to Windows 10 as an “operating systems as a service” approach and made it a free upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. Microsoft went a step further by allowing anyone to install and run Insider builds of Windows 10 at no cost as long as one agreed to accept subsequent updates. These two choices have made Windows 10 available to a wide audience, and if early reviews are any indication, most people are very happy with Windows 10.

With one exception.

Privacy Concerns

I don’t recall another operating system launch where reviewers and users were so concerned about the default privacy settings, but Windows 10 has brought this issue to the forefront. I can’t exactly say why that’s the case, but each week I speak to Windows 10 users who are thoroughly confused by reports they’ve read about Windows 10 spying on their computer activity. Some of our customers are refusing to upgrade to Windows 10, while others have contacted us at Puget Systems asking how they can return their computers to Windows 7 or Windows 8. For many users, rolling back to a previous version of Windows is not a trivial exercise.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of concern about the default privacy settings in Windows 10 – but there’s also a lot of misinformation. Confusion around privacy often breeds fear, and most of it is unwarranted in regards to Windows 10. That doesn’t mean Microsoft shouldn’t have done a better job of explaining how Windows 10 privacy settings work and what they mean for consumers.

This week I want to take a look at some basic Windows 10 privacy settings, and make recommendations that might work for your system. It’s nearly impossible to cover every possible scenario, but some basic best practices exist that I’ll explain in detail.

Privacy Settings

Microsoft has made PRIVACY one of the nine major areas under SETTINGS.

Windows 10 Settings

But clicking on the PRIVACY icon brings up an overwhelming number of options under 13 privacy sub-topics. The number of options found here will be surprising to even those of us who have run Windows for many years. The screenshot below shows the privacy options for the webcam I have installed on my system. In the past, I would have assumed such settings would be found within the webcam software. I wouldn’t have thought to search through the Windows settings for this level of control. Although the number of settings may feel overwhelming, having access to all of them in one area is a nice touch.

Windows 10 Privacy

My first suggestion would be to spend some time going through each section. Settings for your camera, microphone, and contacts probably feel fairly straightforward. Settings for location, speech and account info are more ambiguous. If you are using a Windows 10 computer connected to a corporate network, it’s always wise to check with IT before changing any setting, including privacy settings.

Having said that, there are some default privacy settings you might consider changing if you’re running a Windows 10 computer at home. I’ll cover those I believe are important and make recommendations. I have three computers running Windows 10, and have made the following changes to each one:

Settings > Privacy > General

Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps – OFF
Turning this to OFF prevents Microsoft (and their partners) from personalizing ads you see.

Send Microsoft info about how I write – OFF
Turning this OFF prevents Windows 10 from sending information to Microsoft about how and what you write. I suspect Microsoft uses this information to improve text recognition, but it sounds creepy.

Let websites provide locally relevant content by accessing my language list – OFF
Turning this OFF prevents websites from seeing what languages you have installed on Windows 10. Talk about granular!

Settings > Privacy > Location

Location for this device is – OFF
This will disable location tracking for all users of the computer. If you use Mapping and Weather apps often, you might considering keeping this ON. It doesn’t mean you can’t use Weather or Mapping apps, but Windows won’t allow them to locate you automatically.

Settings > Privacy > Account Info

Let apps access my name, picture, and other account info – OFF
Prevents Windows 10 apps from accessing account information about you including your name and picture.

Settings > Privacy > Feedback and Diagnostics

Windows should ask for my feedback – NEVER
I can’t think of a single time I’ve said, “Yes, this would be a good time to give Microsoft a piece of my mind.”

Send your device data to Microsoft – BASIC
Unless you’re running Enterprise versions of Windows 10, you won’t be able to turn this setting off entirely. But setting it to BASIC minimizes the amount of diagnostic data Windows will send to Microsoft.

Cortana & Search Settings

Type “Cortana” into the search bar and select Cortana and Search Settings to find these settings.

One of the major additions to Windows 10 is Cortana. If you’re not familiar with Cortana, she’s Microsoft’s voice assistant first introduced to the world on Windows Phone. I use a headsets with microphone throughout the day, and I initially found it  helpful to search for programs and retrieve information such as the weather using only my voice. But the novelty eventually wore off, and I didn’t like the fact that, by using Cortana, Microsoft was able to collect data on what I asked it to do.

So if you find Cortana helpful, then leave it on. Otherwise:
Cortana can give you suggestions, ideas, reminders, alerts and more – OFF

Search online and include web results – OFF
I also didn’t like how Windows 10 search included Bing search results to my local queries. I use Windows search to launch apps and search for documents, and the search results became cluttered using the default settings.

Conclusion

These are the Windows 10 privacy settings that work well for me, and they might work well for you. I normally don’t recommend changing so many default settings, but I’ve made an exception with Windows 10 because I don’t like how many avenues Microsoft has at its disposal to collect information about how I use my computer.

I’ve disabled those settings that collect the most data without locking Windows down to the point that its asking me permission to complete even the most benign commands. If you remember Windows Account Control in previous versions, you know exactly what I mean.

Are there any settings you feel I missed? Let me know in the comments below.